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The view from the southern border . . .

I wrote this article during  a three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC. It was published in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1986 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for a similar article published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today.

The view from the southern border

Everything you are about to read is true. Any resemblance to actual persons, situations and locations is purely intentional and nothing has been changed to protect the innocent. On the southern border there are very few innocents. Most of the traveling public spends its time trying to find ways to outwit customs inspectors, and most customs inspectors lost their innocence when they accepted their assignment on the southern border.

This article is intended to show southern land border inspectors as they are—not just a group of people in a certain geographical location or a segment of a larger group with similar functions, but as individuals subject to the frailties, vagaries, and sublime achievements of human nature. It is meant to inform, to educate, to entertain and perhaps to amuse—to stimulate and provoke thought and action, and to show life and work on the southern border from the heart and through the eyes of the inspectors themselves.

Most inspectors are satisfied in their chosen profession, including its location. Many were born, reared and educated in or near the area in which they now live and work, and many enjoy social, economic, cultural and familial ties with people on both sides of the border. Probably few of them would change even if given their choice of assignments at an airport or seaport, or at another of the 25 ports and stations along the southern border.

Those 25 crossing points between the United States and Mexico cover some 2,000 miles, a thin blue line of customs inspectors stretching from Brownsville at the tip of Texas on the Gulf of Mexico to San Ysidro in southern California on the Pacific Ocean. Tour those ports, and travel from the old-world balustrades of Brownsville to the gleaming spires of San Diego—from the dry sub-tropic air and lush vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley to the high thin air of El Paso, through the searing heat of southwestern deserts where the giant saguaro cactus sometimes attains heights of fifty feet in its lifespan of 200 years, and across the fabled Imperial Valley of California to San Ysidro and the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean.

From Brownsville to Progreso and on to Hidalgo, follow U.S. Highway 8, known locally as Old Military Highway, the same route patrolled by General Zachary Taylor and his troops during the war with Mexico. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the border between Texas and Mexico was moved southward to the Rio Grande River, known to the Mexican people as Rio Bravo, or Brave River. The treaty also made California, Arizona and New Mexico part of the United States. The borders with Arizona and New Mexico were fixed by treaty at the Gila River, and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 extended them to their present limits.

At Los Ebanos watch the operation of the world’s only hand-operated international ferry—no traffic backups at Los Ebanos because the ferry will only accommodate two cars on each trip. The modern aluminum vessel now plying the waters of the Rio Grande replaced a series of wooden vessels which in their turn were replacements for the original operation, a lone boatman moving passengers and cargo across the river in a vessel made by welding two automobile hoods together.

Continue to Rio Grande City and to Roma, an area rich in history and folklore. A new concrete structure spans the Rio Grande River at Roma, just upstream from the old suspension bridge which, although condemned, stands proudly as a monument to the skills of earlier engineers and bridge builders. Some of Roma’s adobe walls still bear the scars of bullets fired by revolutionaries, renegades and Rangers, and just a stone’s throw from the Customhouse is the church plaza where Marlon Brando, as the legendary bandit Emiliano in the movie Vive Zapata, fell and died under a withering hail of rifle fire from the surrounding balconies and rooftops.

Continue the tour through District Headquarters in Laredo and on to Eagle Pass and Del Rio. En route to Del Rio spend a few moments of silence near the spot where Customs Inspector Richard Latham was murdered after being kidnapped from his post in Del Rio in February 1984, the fifth-fourth Customs officer to die in the line of duty since 1900. There can be no fault attached to the deaths of those fine officers. Their contributions to the Customs Service extended to life itself, and those sacrifices will be acknowledged when the Congress of the United States recognizes customs inspectors as true law enforcement officers, entitled to hazardous duty recognition and early retirement.

Between Del Rio and Fabens lie miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, except for the solitary port of Presidio. En route to Presidio, visit the Lily Langtry Saloon in Langtry, Texas where Judge Roy Bean dispensed his personal and peculiar brand of frontier justice as The Only Law West of the Pecos. Langtry takes its name from the saloon that was named in honor of the celebrated actress, a lady loved by the judge from afar for many years. Miss Langtry eventually came to Texas to meet her admirer, but the judge could wait no longer—he died shortly before her visit.

From El Paso and District Headquarters to the California state line, ports and stations are suspended from the main highways by lengthy, lonely ribbons of state highways, and each port represents a major detour from the main route. Each is worthy of the detour if time permits, because each is unique and each is an integral part of the U.S. Customs Service.

On to Columbus, New Mexico and Douglas, Naco and Nogales, District Headquarters for Customs operations in Arizona—to Sasabe, to Lukeville and the federal inspection facility dewigned by the architectural firm of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the twin ports of San Luis and Andrade—the port directors are twin brothers—and on to Calexico in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. On a recent December morning the writer stepped out on a motel balcony in El Centro for a breath of clear cool desert air, and memories of a childhood on the farm came rushing in, triggered by a strong breeze coming from the direction of El Centro’s numerous cattle feed lots. Continue to the port of Tecate, just across the border from the Mexican city of Tecat from which Mexico’s famous beer takes it name. End the tour of the Mexican border at San Ysidro, the world’s largest land border crossing point, with24 lanes of incoming vehicle traffic.

No feature on Customs could possibly be complete without statistics, and this one is no exception. However, the statistics will be limited to certain completely unbiased minimums. Land border inspectors comprise about one-third of the total inspection force of 4,500, and that group of 1,500 is fairly evenly divided between the northern and southern borders. Since only thirty million of the 300 million people that enter the United States each year come by air and sea, the remaining 270 million enter at land border ports. For those of a statistical bent, these figures mean that 33 percent of the work force processes 90 percent of the passenger and pedestrian workload.

Inspectors on the southern border live and work in proximity to, and are in daily contact with, the people of a foreign nation, a country of some 70 million struggling through a deepening economic crisis, a people those currency is today worth only one-twentieth of its value 12 years ago. The inspectors are very much aware of conditions across the border, and although they carry out their responsibilities with diligence and dedication they are sometimes reluctant witnesses to the laws that they enforce.

They understand the conditions that drive people north in search of work and a better life, fleeing an economy with an unemployment rate of forty percent—four of every ten workers—and an unemployment rate even higher in border cities. They know the people that subject their infant children to the dangers and rigors of an illegal border crossing are attempting to escape an infant mortality rate that approaches fifty percent among children up to the age of five years.

With tragic frequency the inspectors learn from a motorist or pedestrian of a floater in the river—the Rio Grande has claimed another life. Many that attempt the illegal crossing come from the arid interior of Mexico. At home they had no lakes, no river, no YMCA, no municipal pools or backyard pools, and no country swimming holes—they are victims of the deceptively tranquil waters of the Rio Grande because they cannot swim—they simply never had the opportunity to learn. Sometimes the inspectors learn that others have been found dead or dying or wandering aimlessly without food or water in the deserts of West Texas or New Mexico or Arizona or California, left there by alien smugglers that first exacted their profits for services rendered.

To work on the southern border is to bear witness to poverty, misery, despair and tragedy, and it is impossible to remain untouched or to become inured. Inspectors may mask their feelings with a veneer of cynicism, a facade of callousness or indifference but they understand—they feel, and they care.

While the southern border involves a certain amount of danger to the safety and wellbeing of the inspectors, they realize that theirs is not the only inspector positions that are fraught with peril. They have all heard the horror stories associated with airport duty—of the many close encounters with stellar figures of the entertainment industry, of heaving bosoms and violet eyes, and of the sports world, and with diplomats, senators, representatives and other high-ranking officials, all exemplifying the rigors of airport duty. They know that climate control systems at the airports sometimes malfunction, and they are aware of the constant struggle by management to keep the lid on the annual overtime pay cap.

Their awareness of overtime problems may be faintly tinged with envy because land border inspectors make their overtime money the old-fashioned way—they earn it. Virtually all overtime is non-reimbursable and each call out requires the full two hours on duty—no rollbacks, no lag time and no standby time. The four overtime periods earned on Sundays and holidays demand the full eight hours, and the eight-hour tour of duty is spent alternating between primary and secondary stations at vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints. The overtime pay cap presents very few problems for management on the southern border, because the cap is rarely within the inspectors’ reach.

Airport hardships are freely acknowledged by southern land border inspectors, just as they freely acknowledge the every-present dangers faced by airport inspectors from smugglers, fugitives from justice and from all the criminal elements of our society and other societies of the word.

They acknowledge such hardships because they face the same problems—except for the Hollywood stars, high-ranking officials, climate control and the overtime pay cap, and an almost endless array of other problems including working exposed to vicious extremes of hear and cold, precipitation in all its forms, and unremitting atmospheric pollution caused by wind and dust and dirt, and by gases and solid particles spewing from the exhausts of millions of vehicles. Our neighbor to the south has no environmental protection agency to impose and enforce pollution controls, and there are no government restrictions on lead content and other petroleum additives.

We can only speculate on the long term effects of constant exposure to concentrated amounts of nitrogen oxides, lead, sulphur, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic substances. It has been estimated that an adult inhales 30 pound of air daily. With more than one-third of their time on duty spent in highly polluted areas, land border inspectors ingest at least ten pounds of contaminated air daily. They must ultimately pay a high price for such exposure in upper respiratory infections and diseases, in kidney and liver and heart problems, in aggravated asthmatic and bronchial conditions, and in impairment of vision and psychomotor performance. In short, they must eventually pay a high price in virtually every physiological system and body function.

Inspectors on the southern land border face many dangers and enemies not covered by their position descriptions. In addition to smugglers, fugitives from justice and a representative cross-section of every criminal element known to law enforcement, they are faced with many situations that are not covered in the inspector’s manual and must be dealt with as they occur.

Consider the risk inherent in convincing a child that the candied apple on a stick purchased in Mexico is a potential threat to America’s citrus industry, and that its importation is restricted by the United States Department of Agriculture. The child neither knows nor cares about agricultural restrictions and prohibitions. If time and traffic permit, the inspector will sometimes supervise the immediate and on-site destruction of the prohibited item by the importer through internal consumption.

Even more risk is involved when the inspector is forced to tell a truck driver that the beautiful sea-turtle boots he just paid $150 for must be confiscated and held for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife—in many instances the trucker left his old boots in Mexico and therefore is shoeless when released by the inspector.

There is risk involved in telling a lady that her five gallons of fresh mango slices, carefully separated from the seeds because she believed only the seeds are prohibited, will be held for the scalpel, microscope and food-grinders of the Agriculture inspectors. The traveler is only slightly mollified by the inspector’s explanation that the flesh of mangoes is prohibited because the pulp, not the seed, is the host for the destructive pest USDA seeks to control.

Many families supplement their limited or fixed incomes by shopping for food staples on the other side of the border, and when their fresh eggs, pork, potatoes and fruits are confiscated their reaction is far too often that of hoping that the inspectors enjoy the meal.

With the first hint of snow in the north the annual migration of snowbirds begins. These winter visitors arrive at border cities singly and in pairs, and sometimes in caravans a hundred strong. They will spend the winter foraging for food and drink, and as any land border inspector knows, their diet consists mainly of cookies, liquor, vanilla and garlic, all purchased in the markets of Mexican border cities. Of various phenomenae observed among the snowbirds these are among the most fascinating—not one has ever been to Mexico before, and a highly disproportionate number of them are sibling twins.

Inspector: Didn’t you bring a bottle of liquor from Mexico yesterday?

Snowbird: Officer, you may not believe this but I have a twin, and I’ll bet he was here yesterday.

In some areas the winter visitors stretch local tourist facilities to the breaking point, along with the tolerance and patience of most Customs inspectors. In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, they expand the normal population of 400,000 to more than three million. Fortunately the breaking point is never reached, of facilities or of patience and tolerance, and with the advent of spring the homeward trek begins.

The annual ebb and flow of winter visitors is repeated in varying degrees at every crossing point on the Mexican border. To southern border inspectors these are the signs of changing seasons, as sure an indication as is the first snowfall or the first robin to their counterparts on the northern border.

Strong kidneys and a weak bladder were the downfall of an illegal alien one evening at Brownsville, Texas. An alert inspector noticed what he suspected to be a gasoline leak in a sedan whose occupants were in the Immigration office obtaining permits. He conducted a smell test to the liquid and determined that it was not gasoline, and a closer inspection revealed a smuggled alien concealed in a compartment behind the rear seat. The long drive from the interior of Mexico and the delay in the office was the alien’s downfall. He was promptly documented and returned to Mexico, and the driver of the vehicle was arrested for smuggling.

A check of an automobile trunk at the port of Progreso prompted by sounds of feminine giggling produced three smuggled alien females, all young and all ladies of the evening, bound for cantinas and cash transactions on the U. S. side of the border. Although Mexico and particularly the stare of Tamaulipas has made some effort to clean up border red light districts, the so-called Boy’s Town found in every border city in Mexico, but they still exist. They are variously called la zona roja—the red zone—and la zona de tolerencia—the zone of tolerance.

The red light districts contribute to the inspector’s frustration by eliciting this answer to the question of whether the person acquired anything in Mexico—Oh, God, I hope not! If every inspector had a dollar for every time he has heard that answer on Saturday night and Sunday morning the Customs Service would not need early retirement for inspectors—they could retire early just on that income.

They could retire even earlier if compensated for the number of times the same inquiry is answered by Just a belly full of good food—you can’t tax that, ha, ha, ha! Such answers highlight one of the worst aspects of the job. After a short time the inspectors have heard every possible answer or combination of answers, and find little humor in them, particularly near the end of a long tour of duty. Their inability to respond with a laugh or a smile is usually interpreted as surliness, or as indifference or dissatisfaction with their job.

And how about this one? Oh, nothing much, just a little pot. Further questioning and inspection produces a little pot, molded and fired in the clay kilns of Mexico, and evidently purchased for the express purpose of playing a trick on the Customs inspector. And this one—Oh, just some liquor, and a single bottle is held up for inspection. Search reveals one or more additional bottles, and when the declarant is questioned the response is, Well, I told you that I had some liquor—I just didn’t say how much liquor.

The question of citizenship frequently generates this response—Of course I’m an American citizen. Do I look like a frigging Mexican to you? Or this one—Yeah, I’m an American citizen—are you? The latter response is usually directed to Hispanic Customs inspectors. The varieties of questions are not endless—they are finite, and the inspectors quickly learn the entire repertoire.

The size, numbers and feeding habits of southern mosquitoes, especially those of Texas, are legendary. They are undoubtedly known to people all over the world, and this article will not attempt to expand or dispel those legends—except perhaps to advance the theory that many, perhaps most, of the unauthorized discharges of weapons by southern border inspectors are directed against mosquitoes, and the action was the last resort of the inspector in defense of his life or that of another, as required by the firearms manual. When a mosquito is the target there are usually two distinct sounds, depending on the shooter’s accuracy. The first is made by the weapon’s discharge, and the second is made when the mosquito hits the ground.

An ever-present enemy and perhaps one of the most dangerous is boredom, ranging from the frustration of starting an eight hour shift at San Ysidro facing an endless sea of vehicles and finishing the shift without ever seeing a break in the line, to the utter boredom of waiting for a vehicle to break the monotony of the night and help the inspector stay awake.

No southern border inspector will ever admit to having fallen asleep on such a shift, but almost every one of them will confess they have spent some time with their eyes closed, checking their eyelids for cracks. One inspector, whose name appears beneath the title of this article, opened his eyes after such an operation in the wee small hours of the morning to find an auto parked beside him at the primary inspection point, its engine turned off and its occupants waiting politely and patiently for the inspector to finish the inspection of his eyelids and begin his inspection of their entry into the United States. They were early morning commuters, traveling to work in the vegetable fields and citrus groves of the Rio Grande alley.

Other insidious and deadly enemies of land border inspectors are familiarity and complacency. They see the same people day after day, many of them several times during the course of a single shift, and this familiarity must inevitably color their judgment and their treatment of the traveler. Such people may attempt to break the law because their estimate of the chances of being caught are based on the superficial and cursory treatment accorded by some inspectors.

Complacency has killed more law enforcement officers than any other habit or characteristic, and Customs inspectors are particularly vulnerable. They are not in the position of street cops that know they are in a danger zone and are far more likely to govern their actions on that basis. The Customs inspector must continually be aware that in the usual crowd of migrant workers, affluent businessmen, bona fide tourists and little old ladies in tennis shoes may be, and probably is, one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives.

Everything you have just read is true, but the observations, thoughts and opinions interspersed in the narrative are personal—they belong to the writer. They are therefore highly subjective and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or feelings of any other person or group. No offense is intended through their expression and none should be taken. Certain observations may be viewed as criticisms by some, but they are constructive in nature and intent and should be regarded in that light.

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Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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A surgical solution to illegal immigration . . .

Our land border with Mexico cannot be closed.

The military could link hands from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California and the line would not slow the illegal entries. They will go under, over, through or around any barrier constructed, living or otherwise, by land, sea and air, and through tunnels.

Anyone who has lived or worked on the border for any significant length of time knows the border cannot be closed. I worked on the Texas-Mexico border for 12 years, with extended assignments at three land border ports as a Customs inspector trainee, journeyman and supervisor, and in a three-year stint at Customs Headquarters I covered every port on the Mexican border (also most international airports, seaports and land crossings on our border with Canada).

I know the border cannot be closed.

Bill O’Reilly at Fox News believes the border can be closed. He’s wrong—the border cannot be closed (he hasn’t asked me about this, but I would be glad to brief him).

I began my 26-year career with the United States Customs Service at the international border crossing in Progreso, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley a few miles south of Weslaco, Texas. The port director at Progreso had, in my opinion, a sure-fire way to dry up the flood of illegal immigrants—such persons have historically been called wet-backs, a highly descriptive term that has fallen prey to the current atmosphere of political correctness. I plan to discuss the term in a subsequent posting.

The then-port director at Progreso suggested that, regardless of nationality or country of origin, one finger be removed from the illegal immigrant the first time he (or she) is intercepted, then return him (or her) to Mexico, and remove another finger if that person is again intercepted entering our country illegally. If adopted, his suggestion would result in numerous nine-fingered illegals, significantly fewer eight-fingered, and virtually none with only seven fingers.

My only suggestion to his plan at that time was to remove the middle finger of one hand for the first offense and the middle finger of the other hand for the second offense, then another finger for the next illegal crossing, etc., etc. My rationale for that sequence was, of course, intended to prevent the offender from flipping the bird at any US federal officer in any future encounter. This led to the development of Operation FRET (Finger Removal Each Time).

I have since fleshed out my plan to control unauthorized immigration, and have also developed a plan to prevent members of Congress from growing old and rich in the “service” of their country. To that end I offer the following concepts: Operation FRET to control illegal immigration, and Operation OFFER to clear out some, perhaps most, of the deadwood in our Senate and our House of Representatives. Operation OFFER, over time, might even clear out all the deadwood and ensure that none of it reappears in Congress.

Operation FRET (Finger Removal Each Time) should not be confused with the acronym for fluorescence resonance energy transfer, a condition related to fluorescent lighting. Operation FRET is my term for a system that, if properly applied, could staunch the flow of unauthorized entries across our national borders. The system is suggested to control entries from Mexico, but to avoid any semblance of bias it should probably be instituted along our northern border as well, and for consistency the system must apply to illegal entries at any point in the nation, whether by land, sea or air.

Operation OFFER (One Finger For Each Re-election) is recommended initially for elections to our Senate and our House of Representatives, but the concept can be applied effectively to lesser elections, ranging from local school boards up to gubernatorial races. I would oppose any suggestion to make Operation OFFEE retroactive for sitting electees—now that would really be cruel!

I would also oppose any suggestion to extend Operation OFFEE to the highest elected office in the land—that worthy needs more fingers, not fewer, to accomplish his complex duties and responsibilities. Besides, any hint of such a suggestion, whether satire or otherwise, would bring down on the suggester the accumulative weight and heat of every national, state and local law enforcement agency.

A fellow blogger made these comments on my suggestion concerning digit removals for illegal immigrants, and his comments inspired me to develop Operation OFFER:

I think your immigration penalty may be a tad cruel.

Could we, however, use it for membership in Congress?

Yes, we can! (I must admit that I pilfered that slogan from the 2008 presidential campaign). If the OFFER concept (One Finger Removal Each Re-election) became law, it’s doubtful that we would ever have more than a handful (so to speak) of nine-fingered senators or representatives, even fewer with only eight fingers and probably none with three fingers missing. I assume the writer meant to remove one finger on the initial election to Congress, whether to the Senate or to the House of Representatives, and the second on the first re-election, etc. And I also assume the same sequence (middle fingers first) would apply to the members of Congress. However, I feel that the system should apply to re-elections only. Under Operation FRET, the illegal immigrant has broken federal law, while the first term electee to Congress has broken no laws. Operation OFFER would ensure that no senator or representative would serve more than one term unless, of course, they would be willing to sacrifice a digit in order to remain on the federal dole and continue feathering their nest—not likely, that.

It is doubtful that the law could be made retroactive, principally because many of the senators and representatives would be minus all fingers as well as both thumbs. And there is actually the possibility, albeit it very remote, that reelections to the Senate and the House of Representatives would be eliminated—one can only dream.

I would oppose any suggestion to make Operation OFFER retroactive for sitting electees—now that would really be cruel! I would also oppose any suggestion to extend Operation OFFER to the highest elected office in the land—that worthy needs more fingers, not fewer, to accomplish his complex duties and responsibilities. And any such suggestion, whether satire or otherwise,  would bring down on the suggester the accumulative weight and heat of every national, state and local law enforcement agency in the nation.

A special note for anyone who peruses (reads) this posting and believes it, or is repulsed by it, or considers it cruel and un-American:

Hey, lighten up!

This is satire and nothing more—no investigation by the AFRC (Anti-Finger-Removal Czar) is needed, nor do we need a BOLO for international border crossers with fingers missing from either hand, specifically middle fingers.

Our newspapers, novels, movies and television presentations are saturated with crime reports, either true or fictional, so everyone should know the meaning of BOLO. However, this explanation is provided for the edification (enlightenment) of the three persons (estimated) in our population of 330 million (estimated) that do not know:

BOLO is an acronym for Be On Look Out (for). Don’t you just abhor (hate) it when someone uses a word, whether verbal (spoken) or written, then immediately defines (explains) it in the belief that the reader lacks eruditeness (having great knowledge) and won’t know the word’s meaning?

I also hate it when someone does that, whether speaking or writing.

I completely understand, and I feel your pain.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2010 in Humor, law enforcement, politics

 

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Arizona apples & cheeseburger briefs . . .

I have three daughters—one lives in Wylie, Texas, a city near Dallas. Another lives just a mile from me in San Antonio. The third daughter lives and works in Virginia, and to celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1990 we met in Phoenix, Arizona to begin a six-day adventure touring and photographing in three of the states which comprise the legendary four corners—we toured Arizona, New Mexico and Utah but did not make it to Colorado—we saved that for a later birthday, one yet to be scheduled.

The next three paragraphs are in my daughter’s words, exactly as I received them in her e-mail suggesting that I post something on our Southwest adventure.

“Write about me buying a tourism book on things to see in the southwest, reading a caption that went to a different photo, then making you drive 20+ miles on a dirt road to go see what eventually was Hovenweep (but thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out)…and how I walked into the canyon and you videotaped my descent and mentioned that I wouldn’t return because something would get me and how city slicker I was; how I wasn’t equipped to be down there and you shouldn’t have let me go—then I heard all of this played back when you played back your video at the hotel!

“Other places we went on that trip: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (10/21/90, I think) in Coolidge, AZ (south of Phoenix)—4-story, 11-room mud structure. This is where I photographed the cactus blooms in the parking lot on our way back to the car—that photo placed in the nature category of the 2nd annual reader’s photos contest with American Photo. You can even mention that and send the winning photo to put in that posting!

“San Xavier del Bac Mission (The White Dove of the Desert) Tucson, AZ (was that in ’90?—I think that’s what my slides were identified with).”

I agree with her recollections of the trip except for her statement that we were “thinking it would look like Mesa Verde in Colorado because of how the caption was laid out.” Wrong—we (she) actually thought that Mesa Verde was in Arizona, not that it would look like Mesa Verde. However, she is right in saying that I videotaped her descent into the canyon, scolding her soundly as the descent was recorded. And I continued to mumble to myself long after she was out of sight and hearing, with the tape still recording my comments, stressing how stubborn she was and that she should mind her ol’ pappy—some of my mumbling included some rather salty language. Fortunately the only listeners (to my knowledge) were the ghosts of the long-gone ancient Anasazi people—and it’s a safe bet that none of them had video cameras. Above: Hovenweep ruins, © Cindy Dyer

We met in Phoenix on Tuesday, October 16, following our respective flights from Alexandria, Virginia and San Antonio, Texas. We went directly to a rental car office and selected a vehicle—when asked if she preferred any particular color, my daughter replied, “Anything but red.” To this day she refuses to accept any rental vehicle even lightly tinged with the color red (some sort of complex there, I suppose). Right: Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona © Cindy Dyer

Our transportation was blue and therefore acceptable to my daughter, but our adventure began on an ominous note. We located our car in the parking lot, and I placed the ditty-bag containing my toilet articles and my unmentionables on the ground while we loaded our baggage and photo equipment into the trunk and then neglected to load the bag. We left Phoenix and headed for scenic Sedona, located 116 miles north of Phoenix.

We were out of the city and well on our way before I remembered the bag. It was a freebie that came with my wife’s purchase of Lancome items and was marked with the maker’s name and logo. I had lugged it all over the globe for many years, including trips to US cities from Miami to Seattle and Boston to San Diego. The bag also accompanied me to foreign destinations, including Mexico, England, Germany, South Africa and Botswana. The name appeared prominently on both sides of the soft-side bag and could not be effectively obscured—I and my Lancome bag were subjected to numerous speculative side-glances, both by women and men—especially on my trips to San Francisco. Above: wall at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Tucson, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Their visual inspections seemed to focus alternately on the Lancome bag and me, perhaps to resolve some lingering doubt and either refute or  confirm their first impressions. I wanted to tell them that just as one can’t judge a book by its cover or a horse by its color, neither can one judge a traveler by the logo on carry-on luggage—or at least one shouldn’t. Right: Petrified Forest National Park, Petrified Forest, AZ © Cindy Dyer

Bummer.

There was really no good reason to go back for the bag. All the articles in it could be easily replaced, with one very important exception—the bag contained a pair of boxer briefs, cleverly and profusely decorated with colorful images of cheeseburgers—the briefs were a Father’s Day gift from one of my three daughters—on second thought, the three may shared the cost. My daughter remembers the item as being decorated with French fries, but they were cheeseburgers—I insist that my memory is correct and must hold sway, especially given that my relationship with the briefs (my contact, so to speak) was far more personal and up close than hers. In addition to being quite functional, the briefs had a lot of sentimental value for me, so we returned to the rental car parking lot—the bag was just as I left it, cheeseburger briefs and all, and we again headed out for Sedona.

Sedona, Arizona is located in Oak Creek Canyon and is a very popular tourist destination. It’s an artist’s haven, a shopper’s heaven, a photographer’s dream and a traffic nightmare. One can forget parking in the commercial area and only hope to find a wide place to park somewhere along roads leading into and out of the city. On a later trip to the four-corners area, while traveling on IH40 on our way back to Las Vegas from New Mexico, we decided to make a side trip south to Sedona. We toured the city and headed for Las Vegas without ever parking, or even shutting down the engine—our efforts to find a parking place were fruitless.

Speaking of fruit:

On this commemorative thirtieth birthday trip we lingered in the upper Oak Canyon to watch rock-climbers descending and ascending the canyon walls, and found an abandoned apple orchard—at least it appeared to be abandoned. The orchard showed years of neglect with heavy undergrowth, and an old house visible beyond a fallen gate was obviously unoccupied.

Evidently other travelers also considered the orchard abandoned—they were munching on apples garnered from the ground, and the area had been picked clean by the time we got there. However, that was no problem for a stepper, or rather for a climber. The temperature was uncomfortably cool, and although encumbered by the weight of the army field-jacket I was wearing, I climbed several of the trees, filled my pockets with apples and shook down some for others to enjoy (I’m always searching for ways to be of service to fellow sojourners).

The apples would have eventually fallen anyway—I just accelerated the process.

In the interests of brevity I’ll close this posting (not that it’s particularly brief) and get back later with more details of our memorable conquest of the Four Corners area (or at least three of the four states that comprise the four corners). There’s lots more to tell—tidbits such as our stays at several La Quinta motels on our trip. We were always treated to Continental breakfasts, and after our meals we appropriated several bananas to last us through the day. I can’t speak for my daughter, but I consumed so many bananas that I lost most of any affinity I may have had for that particular fruit.

Incidentally, I have to eat bananas sideways in order to keep from blushing (hey, that’s an old GI joke—lighten up!).


 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 4, 2009 in Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, Travel

 

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Re: Congress, illegal immigration & missing fingers . . .

This posting consists of an e-mail (and my response) that I received from a friend of my daughter, one that I’ve never met, but I feel that I know the writer well through the e-mail.

This is the friend’s e-mail:

“I know you have enjoyed my rants in the past. Your daughter always asks if I sent something to you that I had sent her. This time I can say, “Yes.”

This runs long. You may need coffee or an intermission so you can go get popcorn and some jujubees. If you make it all the way through you get a prize at the end—high blood pressure.

My rant is as follows:

Mexican illegal alien invaders represent the US State Department’s elephant in the room. They all know he’s here but nobody wants to talk about what it means.

As home to the unwanted illegal alien invader, the United States of America is Mexico’s only real economic and political relief-valve. By allowing the 20 to 30 million illegal alien invaders into the United States, Mexico gains in a multitude of ways. As the illegal alien invader progresses through life in Estados Unidos, the benefits multiply.

Firstly, by breaching our borders and crossing from citizen of Mexico to criminal of the United States, each illegal alien invader voluntarily removes himself or herself from the unemployed Mexican work force.  The levels of unemployment, illiteracy (they are unable to read and write English, nor can they read and write Spanish) and home-grown crime in Mexico are at crisis proportions.

The lack of a middle class and the absence of protections for private property (the Mexican government will rob everyone of their property if it is shown to have value), and the collection of real economic power in the hands of the political elite have assured a national poverty rate that must be an embarrassment to anyone who defends the criminal government in Mexico City.

Every time a Mexican crosses the border into the United States, Mexico City breathes a sigh of relief.  This represents one more mouth they do not have to feed, one more voice that will not shout its disapproval, and one more set of hands that will not fight against the police/drug-lord/federal corruption triumvirate of organized crime in Mexico. Everyone in Mexico is relieved as each illegal alien invader leaves Mexico.

Secondly, the majority of illegal alien invaders will find work in the United States and they will start the transfer of wealth from the United States to their meager homes in the Mexican interior. Like sticking a tube in our national economic artery, this economic “bleeding” parasitically consumes US Dollars that should be used internally and sends them into Mexico. These transfers are Mexico’s second largest economic benefit, directly behind PeMex, the nationalized (can you say, “Maxine Waters”) Mexican petroleum company.  Those transfers are estimated to be worth $20 billion annually.

It was, perhaps, Milton Friedman who showed how a dollar, earned in a community, would be cycled through that same community seven times, on average. Earning the dollar at the plant, a worker would spend it at the butcher, who would spend it at the grocer, who would spend it at the gas pump.  And on it goes until that dollar would be spent outside of the community and the cycle would continue. Whether it was Dr. Friedman or another economist, the principle is easy to understand.

It is just as easy to understand that a wire transfer of an estimated $20 billion would have an equivalent impact of the loss of over $140 billion to the communities where illegal alien invaders sucked the economic life-blood from one nation and transported it to another. In this way, the appearance of cheap illegal alien invader wages must be multiplied to account for the total loss of local currency. It is, therefore, possible that a $20/hour wage translates to a cost of $140/hour.

Thirdly, the unaccounted costs of welfare, give aways,  free services (especially for health care), and education have been estimated by border states for years.  Now, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania are trying to accrue some tab on these costs as their expenses grow ever higher at the state capitol and the taxpayer burden is becoming painful.

These are costs duly attributable to the Mexico City government, not any local or state or federal government in the United States. Yet, each dollar expended on the welfare and benefit of an illegal alien invader is a dollar (10.325 pesos) that is not a necessary expenditure in Mexico City. Those 10.325 pesos go directly into the pockets of the ruling elite or into the graft and corruption machine that fuels the drug cartels that operate with impunity inside Mexico.

Fourthly, the self-protective imprisonment of the felonious criminal Mexican who walked across the United States border with his petty criminal amigo is like the icing on the Mexico City cake. It is estimated that almost 30 percent of those incarcerated in federal and many state prisons are illegal alien invaders who have come here to commit their crimes.

The Mexican government could not be given a better present. Imagine having the most disruptive and violent criminals removed from the Mexican streets, jailed and fed, and even protected somewhere else, and the government of Mexico doesn’t have to pay a dime. The estimated federal and local cost of incarceration for a year is about $1 billion. There is no way to estimate the loss of property through crime, and the loss of life because of murderous or drunken and irresponsible actions by these same illegal alien invaders for whom we pay an annual $1 billion to incarcerate, just to keep them away from our streets (because if we deport them, they’ll just come back).

With a porous border, what can be done? Almost nothing. Sheriffs across the United States and some local police forces have decided to aggressively pursue illegal alien invaders in their jurisdictions and deport them or get them out of town. This is the illegal alien invader shell game. The only real cure is a complete, forceful and physically closed border with Mexico.

What will we, the United States, promote by closing the border and aggressively campaigning to keep new invaders out?

Mexico is not led by a historically stable government. The political and economic infrastructure is brittle, and incapable of absorbing the additional insult now borne by the United States in our ineffectual remedies to the constant stream of illegal alien invasion.  Stability then, for the Mexican government, depends on the constant leak of their national woes northward. Plugging that leak means all Mexico’s problems remain inside Mexico.

We will be sealing the pressure lid on the simmering economic and political bean pot that is Mexico. The combination of an overnight increase in unemployment, increase in social services load (while Mexico City provides none, the community must), the loss of wire transfers, and the criminal costs will bring the nation to an explosive internal pressure. We would ensure, if not outright condemn, the government in Mexico City to an ugly and bloody civil war.

Unlike our own civil war where the Union had not succeeded in disarming the southern states prior to acts of aggression, the only segments of the Mexican population armed sufficiently to effect an civil war are the military (who would love more power) and the drug cartels (who are tired of sharing profits and benefits of the drug trade with their sycophantic governmental pet Chihuahuas).

Winners of a Mexican Civil War would either be the cruel and dangerous military or the cruel, dangerous and connected drug kingpins.

The United States’ only alternative would be to line these already-closed southern borders with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of troops, ready to protect the southern states when the inevitable civil war erupts. Indeed, the best and most secure option is to wait for the first sign of conflict and invade Mexico with all our military forces, not stopping until we ride into Mexico City.

And unlike the previous failures after the Mexican-American wars, the United States Congress and its military will only find peace and a lasting solution to the problems created by Mexican governmental and military corruption if the United States accepts unconditional surrender and applies the same policies toward Mexico that we did after defeating Japan and Germany in the Second World War.

The war in Iraq was triggered by national security, but extended by an altruistic intention to deliver a democratic future to a people who have never known it. What makes Iraq such a precious ally and commodity that we would shed our blood in their favor when we would not do the same for ourselves and for our Mexican neighbor?

The third option, and one that strikes at the very heart of socialism in our own United States, is to create working opportunities for Mexicans while closing the spigot of social and welfare services to these immigrant workers. This is, in effect, the Bracero program for the 21st century.

Amnesty is a travesty. No immigrant worker program can offer or entice workers with amnesty. Rather, the workers want work and the United States has an appetite for laborers. Giving companies liberty to recruit and transport workers, while granting ICE and the State Department extraordinary latitude in rejecting and policing these laborers, could have a positive effect on both sides of the border.

The challenges of this approach includes the following:

There can be no public services or resources benefit to any temporary Mexican worker.

ICE, local authorities, and the sponsoring company must be able to return the Mexican worker without any process, except those that may involve criminal justice charges.

Direct family members could be allowed to join the worker, but multiple issues of education and health must be addressed before this is allowed.

Wire transfers of earnings must be limited, or outright denied as part of this program. The United States is not an economic donor for tyrannies.

The sponsor company must bear all financial and other burdens for taxes, health care, education, transportation, housing and Immigration process.

The community must have some input regarding the good stewardship of the companies participating in this program: are they working for the benefit of the community; are they fair and just toward both workers and the community; are they complying with all appropriate immigration requirements; etc?

Automatically granting citizenship to persons born within the borders of the United States, as specified in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, must be addressed.  Both those “anchor babies” already born to illegal alien invaders inside the United States and any future children born to Mexican workers participating in any work program must be denied United States citizenship.  This will require a Constitutional Convention and further defining this one section of the 14th amendment to affect those children born to citizens of countries other than the United States.

The first two immigration solutions available to the United States with regard to Mexico are both frightening. The first is invasion and slow poisoning by an illiterate, violent, consuming foreign force.  The second is to precipitate and then capitalize on a bloody civil war in Mexico.

The first choice relegates the United States to a state of subjugation under the invader. The second, while more immediately costly and painful, retains our national and individual sovereignty and creates a democratic ally to the south.

The third solution requires a federal and state government dedicated primarily to the security and sovereignty of the United States and its citizens. This has not been evidenced in the recent past. All indicators point to federal and state governments that seek political expediency, appeasement of Mexican tyrants, expansion of amnesty and the destruction of the southern border. For this reason, the third solution should only be attempted if there is a fundamental shift toward border security in the measurable goals of our government.

One clear and measurable goal would be to change the 14th Amendment. This would demonstrate the right attitude by our federal representatives.  Otherwise, any program will be nothing more than some flavor of capitulation to Mexico or treason to the Constitution and to the citizens of the United States.

To sum up: our choices with regard to Mexico are:

Slow Poison

War

Foxes in the hen  house.

It’s a tough choice. Can I have “none of the above?”

This is my response:

Hi—thanks for the e-mail. I don’t consider it a rant. It’s a well-researched paper, well thought out and forcefully presented. Keep ’em coming!

The border cannot be closed. The military could link hands from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California and the line would not slow the illegal entries. They will go under, over, through or around any barrier constructed, living or otherwise, by land, sea and air, and through tunnels.

Anyone who has lived or worked on the border for any significant length of time knows the border cannot be closed. I worked the Texas-Mexico border for 12 years as a Customs inspector trainee, journeyman and supervisor, and in a three-year stint at Customs Headquarters I covered every port on the Mexican border (also most airports, seaports and Canadian land border ports).

I know the border cannot be closed.

Bill O’Reilly at Fox News believes the border can be closed. He’s wrong—the border cannot be closed (he hasn’t asked me about this, but I would be glad to brief him on it).

The onus must be on the employers—if the illegals can’t work, they won’t come—period.

I began my 26-year career with the United States  Customs Service at the international border crossing in Progreso, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley a few miles south of Weslaco, Texas. The port director at Progreso had, in my opinion, a sure-fire way to dry up the flood of illegal immigrants (we called them wet-backs—this was before the current atmosphere of political correctness).

He proposed that one finger be removed from the illegal the first time he (or she) is intercepted, then return him (or her) to Mexico, and remove another finger if that person was again intercepted. If adopted, his suggestion would result in numerous nine-fingered Mexicans, significantly fewer eight-fingered, and virtually none with only seven fingers.

My only suggestion to his plan was to remove the middle finger of one hand for the first offense and the middle finger of the other hand for the second offense. My rationale for that sequence was, of course, intended to prevent the offender from flipping the bird at any US federal officer in any future encounter.

Thanks again for the e-mail—I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And this is the final response by my daughter’s friend:

I think your immigration penalty may be a tad cruel.

Could we, however, use it for membership in Congress?

And finally, these are my final thoughts (finally) on the title subject:

I assume the writer means to remove one finger on the initial election to Congress, whether to the Senate or to the House of Representatives, and the second on the first re-election, etc. And I also assume the same sequence (middle fingers first) would apply to the members of Congress.

I agree—if the OFREE concept (One Finger Removal Each Election) became law, it’s doubtful that we would have any seven-fingered senators or representatives—many with nine fingers, of course, and eventually all with at least one missing finger, but far fewer with only eight fingers and probably none with only seven fingers. It is also doubtful that the law could be made retroactive, principally because some of the current members, particularly in the House of Representatives, would be minus all fingers as well as both thumbs. And there is actually the possibility, albeit it very remote, that eventually the Senate and House would be extinct—one can only dream.

A special footnote for anyone who peruses (reads) this posting and believes it, or is repulsed by it, or considers it cruel and un-American:

Hey, lighten up!

It is satire and nothing more—no investigation by the AFRC (Anti-Finger-Removal Czar) is needed, nor do we need a BOLO for southern-border crossers with fingers missing from either hand, specifically middle fingers.

Our newspapers, novels, movies and television presentations are saturated with crime reports, either true or fictional, so everyone should know the meaning of BOLO. However, this explanation is provided for the edification (enlightenment) of the three persons (estimated) in our population of 330 million (estimated) that do not know:

BOLO is an acronym for Be On Look Out.

PeeEss:

Don’t you just abhor (hate) it when someone uses a word, whether verbal (spoken) or written, then immediately defines (explains) it in the belief that the reader isn’t erudite (having great knowledge) and won’t know the word’s meaning?

I completely understand, and I feel your pain.

I also hate it when someone does that, whether speaking or writing.

 

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